The many health benefits of solar energy

Light and electricity through solar power reduce toxic indoor air pollution, risk of fires and burns, and promotes health related gender equality

2016 SB Uganda 02 Taral Jansen – K8 industridesign

By: Iben Bjørgulf Antonsen

Over 90% of off-grid households feel that their health has improved after replacing toxic energy sources with solar power, GOGLA concludes in a report from 2018. One third of households in off-grid, low- and middle-income countries depend on kerosene for lighting, World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. These unclean energy sources are considered the largest environmental health risk factor for human life in off-grid communities, says WHO.

Yet, health conditions will, according to GOGLA, improve tremendously if households switched to solar power.

Household air pollution cause global health emergency

With poor ventilation, the use of kerosene exposes people to a great risk of household air pollution (HAP). Burning kerosene creates fumes that contains black carbon, which can cause eye disorders, breathing problems and heart and blod diseases. Globally, 3.8 million premature deaths a year happens because of diseases attributed to exposure of HAP, according to WHO. Overall the WHO regards HAP as “the single most important environmental health risk factor worldwide” and the driver of a “global health emergency.”

In order to reduce indoor air pollution, solar power can replace toxic kerosene lanterns with clean energy. A study made by GOGLA conclude that 91% of households feel that their health improves after replacing kerosene lanterns with solar technology.

Lack of electricity is a threat to basic health treatment

The liquid kerosene oil is often sold in soda bottles or cans. Particularly children are “frequent victims of burns and poisonings from accidents involving kerosene stoves and lamps,” according to WHO report Burning Opportunity. Living in drought areas with flammable shelters, the use of kerosene and open-flame lighting sources, can lead to high risk of burns and fires.

Open-flame lighting sources do not only cause indoor air pollution, fires and burns. The insufficient light and lack of electricity is challenging to the most basic health treatments.

WHO describes in the report Burning Opportunity  how lack of electricity makes it impossible to store lifesaving vaccines. Without light maternal delivery and emergency procedures can be life threatening. The same goes for operating a healthcare centre or hospital. Furthermore, being able to see dangerous bugs or reptiles and studying for a chemistry test in candlelight clarity is extremely difficult.

Solar power promotes health related gender equality

Women and children normally do tasks indoor such as cooking, cleaning and fixing clothes. This means that they spend a considerable amount of time in proximity to polluting energy sources indoor. They are therefore at a particular high risk of diseases from exposure to household air pollution (HAP), WHO concludes in Burning Opportunity.

HAP is regarded as the leading cause of stroke, lung cancer and heart diseases among women and children in off-grid communities. Of all risk factors related to human health, HAP is regarded as the single largest risk factor for women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to WHO.

Access to a reliable and clean source of energy affects human health tremendously, the female population in particular. The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 3 is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages by 2030. In order for this to happen, HAP must be eradicated. As described by WHO, ensuring and expanding the use and access to clean, renewable and sustainable energy sources “is key to achieving a range of global priorities, such as improving health, gender equality, equitable economic development and environmental protection.”

In this sense, solar power does not only improve health conditions – it helps promote gender equality (SDG number 5), eradicate CO2 gasses and provide an affordable and reliable source of clean energy (SDG number 7). Read more about how BRIGHT Products improve the environment and provide off-grid households with an affordable energy source here.